Friday, February 24, 2012

Nocturnal Addiction


The following is a memory from a few years ago that I remember vividly -- it was probably the last time I was truly at peace.
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Humidity from the summer rainstorm that just ended is restraining the engine, but I don’t mind it that much.  To compensate, I shift down into second gear as I enter the onramp.  The torque pulls my head back and I feel a smile grow on my face – insomnia isn’t so unbearable with moments like this at 4am.

Third gear.
Fourth.
Fifth.
Sixth.

The driver’s side window is halfway open, creating a makeshift wind tunnel that carries the smell of moisture past my face.  I reach for both of the window controls and push down, allowing the air to flood in.  The sound it creates muffles the radio and all I can hear from it is the faint wandering guitar solo in Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”.  I reach into my pocket, pull out a cigarette and light it to the sound of David Gilmour’s distorted Stratocaster.  I turn the volume up.

The freeway leans into a banking left turn while it shepherds me beneath an overpass.  As I feel gravity shift from the angle of the road, I accelerate and imagine myself on a race track.  Ahead, the orange glow of the streetlights reflect on the soaked freeway, and when I escape the confining darkness of the road passing overhead, I feel freed by them illuminating my surroundings  and leading me onward.  The city’s skyline is still hazy from the storm.  No single light source is defined, just a landscape bright colors blending into one other.  I find myself slowing down so I can take in the sight for a little longer.  It almost looks unreal.

I reach the bridge and the trees lining the road disappear, revealing a panoramic view of my home.  On my left are storage depots and industrial facilities, on my right is the lake, ahead of me is the city.  I’m closer now and the cluster of buildings no longer resembles a watercolor painting.  It’s become a forest of iron, concrete and glass that slowly gets larger, growing beyond the frame of my windshield. I’m the only one navigating this river of asphalt, so all of my attention is captured by the size and beauty of the city’s presence… and it overwhelms me.  I pull onto the eastbound ramp, toward the lake.

No sound is coming from the radio now, I've turned it off.  The want to use music as ambient noise has passed, I’m now content with the sound of my tires rolling on the wet pavement.  The stoplight at the end of the off-ramp is red, and as I slow down, the noise dies down.   Sitting at the intersection with my car at idle, it feels like the world around me is idling as well.  There’s nothing out there – no sound, no movement, no animation, no life – just the fluorescent glow from the lifeless objects that hang above me.  Red becomes green and I turn onto the boulevard.

Second gear.
Fourth.
Sixth.

The road is level and my demeanor is relaxed – using every gear seems redundant.  I crowd the edge of the right lane to get the best view of the water as possible, but when I look to it, I realize my alignment on the road is in vain.

Beyond the grass and beaches, I can’t see anything.  There are no light posts on the ground and no moon in the sky.  The only presence I witness is the lack of one.  I know that somewhere beyond my vision is the mighty Lake Michigan, but a part of me is fooled into its absence.  My wild imagination spawns the idea of it being a true abyss, a vast nothingness… and I’m breathing the cool air while roaming along the edge of it.

I spot a narrow parking lot up ahead that dips down below the level of the boulevard.  At the last second, I turn the wheel and coast down into it, I feel the need to stretch my legs.  After backing into a spot, closing the windows and locking the doors, I step onto the hill behind my small, paved oasis from the boulevard.  Once reaching the top, I light another cigarette.

Now that I've left the speed of my car and the roads it was on, the wind no longer feels violent and unforgiving – it’s calm now and it sooths me when I feel it brushing against my cheeks.  The amber of my cigarette keeps my eyes from adjusting to the darkness and I can’t see the waves I hear somewhere in front of me.  To be certain I stay dry, I remain static at my spot on the hill.

In an attempt to be a deeper person than I really am, I try to reflect on my life thus far – family, friends, love and career.  However, the only notion that stays at the surface is how much I enjoy the solitude of some summer nights.  No liquor or liquored-up crowds to send me into a bedlam of distractions, and no obligation to engage in conversations with people I do not know.  On summer nights like this, all I need to worry about is me and my need to get away.  They’re a tolerable substitute for someone who doesn’t have the means to disappear without a word and travel for days or weeks on end – something that I have always longed to do. 

After what seems like an hour of thought, I yawn for the first time.  My insomnia is finally showing signs of weakness and it’s time to retreat to my bed.  I turn around and the breeze touches my neck for the first time, sending a slight shiver down my spine.  Approaching the driver’s side door, I hear random & subtle clicks from underneath the hood – it seems the engine is still very warm.  I must have spent a lot less time on the hill than I originally thought.  Once inside my car, I push the clutch in, turn the key and listen to it come to life.  The windows roll down, the radio turns on, and first gear puts me in motion.

Second gear.
Third.
Fourth.
Fifth.
Sixth.
Home.
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rapid-Fire Wisdom

"Peanuts" by Charles M. Schulz


I’m one of those people that always seem to have people asking them for advice.  Why, you ask?  I wish I could tell you.  The truth is, I don't have definitive answer why, I only have suspicions.  Maybe I have a welcoming demeanor, an authoritative air about me… or maybe I look like Dr. Phil.  Holy hell, I hope it isn’t that last one.

Progressing through the years of taking on this pseudo-psychiatrist role of mine, I’ve gone from avoiding the type of people that seemed to give off that “will you help me?” vibe, to getting used to, and then actually enjoying the process of providing advice and guidance.  The problem that always seems to loom around though, is the fact that people aren’t always willing to ask for advice… and I never want to be “that guy” and give advice when nobody asked for it in the first place.  Such an impasse does create a bit of a gap.

With that being said, I thought it might be in good form to sit down and write down some general advice.  My hope in doing this is to help someone out there that I didn’t realize needed it. I'm sure you've already glanced below, and as you can tell it’s in the style of a list.  The reason behind that is that I wrote everything as it came to me… and my mind works in random short spurts. 

While you make your way down the line, please keep in mind that I have never claimed to be infallible.  This is all information that I've picked up over the years, either by watching others, or primarily, by learning from my own mistakes… so don’t be surprised if some of this stuff doesn't make sense to you, or doesn’t work for you.  Shit, many times I don't follow my own advice... which usually results in disastrous situations.  But that's a whole other post entirely.

Regardless, you have been warned… now on with the show.

++Revised: 2/12/2012
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-Don't kid yourselves, fellas.  Personality & humor may take you a long way... but without looks, you'll never cross the finish line.

-The only thing you're going to win from a McDonalds Monopoly came is a small pack of fries and a large set of love handles.

-If you're in the shower and you suddenly can’t remember if you washed your hair, rub your head with your hand.  If your hair squeaks, you've already washed it.

-Know your limits.  If you constantly shoot beyond them, you'll constantly experience disappointment.

-Guilt trips rarely work, as they tend to annoy the requested.

-Drive as if everyone around you doesn’t know what the hell they're doing… because they usually don’t.

-One may think being a realist is more depressing than being a romantic, but in our realistic world... it's quite the contrary.

-Guys:  Trim your nose hair.

-Ladies:  If you ask a guy what he’s thinking about and he says, “nothing”, 9 out of 10 times he’s being honest and there’s zero activity goin’ on up there.

-Be nice to the person in the drive thru.  They’re already having a shitty day, and they don't need you adding to it.  Not to mention, they don’t get paid very much… so losing their job over messing with your food isn't a very big worry.

-Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers.

-Not everyone should have a boyfriend or girlfriend all the time, sometimes it’s much better for a person to be single.

-Never spend your time searching for a relationship and settle on someone just to have one.  Instead, you should spend time meeting people you enjoy having in your company, and if one of them turns out to be special to you, then give it a shot.

-There will always be someone else that’s smarter, funnier, tougher, prettier and better than you are. So constantly comparing yourself to others will lead to a very miserable life.

-Guys:  Using the same, tired Fight Club and Heat quotes will make you look simple.

-Girls:  Using the same, tired Marilyn Monroe quotes will make you look simple.

-Making mistakes is an important part of life that you can’t avoid, so take a damn chance once in a while.

-Let that zit fade away naturally and avoid the chance of a scar.  No matter what you do, people will notice, but most won’t mention it... they’ve been there too.

-Rage can easily be mistaken as mental clarity.

-Use moderation as a starting point.

-It’s easier to spend than to earn.  That may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised on how many people don’t realize it.

-Common Sense is relative to intelligence.

-If you're dealt a 2 - 7 off-suit... play it.  Winning the pot on that will make the victory that much sweeter. 

-When you're really drunk, listen when you think you should be talking.

-An open mind is a wonderful learning tool.

-Slower traffic TO THE RIGHT.

-When you get out of your morning shower, don't lay back down on your bed to relax for a bit. You'll negotiate with yourself every five minutes on whether or not to get up... then you'll end up being late for work.

-Want to get in better shape? Diet & exercise.  THAT’S IT.  If those miracle weight loss pills actually made a difference, they wouldn't be selling them to you at 3am.

-Coincidences DO happen, so try not to over-analyze a situation.

-Just because you’re single on Valentine’s Day, doesn't mean you have to hate the holiday.

-The trash of pain, the dog shit of sorrow and the dirt of bitterness can sometimes become the compost from which the plant of creative inspiration grows.

-If you take yourself too seriously, everyone else will think of you as a joke.

-Keep a handful of napkins in your car.  Boogers happen to everyone.

-Ladies, don’t be weirded out if a guy has a Zombie Survival Plan. Most of us do.

-If the topic of conversation with a group of people is nowhere near sex, and someone brings up their latest sexual exploit  to brag... it most likely didn't happen.

-If you say something funny, leave it at that.  Pushing the joke will kill it and you’ll be worse off than when you started.

-If you absolutely have to sneeze with a lit cigarette in your mouth, make sure there’s no one standing in front of you.

-There is at least one exception to Einstein’s definition of “insanity”: the dollar feeder in a vending machine.

-Unless he initiates the conversation, never bug a man when he’s eating his lunch.

-You most likely aren't a good singer, so unless you get requests, quit singing all the time.

-Acting edgy or mysterious never works.  People see though it very easily.

-Going through the “I’m done being nice” phase after getting your heart broken is as common as getting your heart broken. You didn't have a paradigm shift or some profound revelation, it was a reaction.

-Keep your religion, or lack thereof, to yourself.  Contrary to what you might think, most people don't give a rat's ass what you believe in.

-When in doubt, overdress.

-No one is right all the time, and not everyone can be right at the same time.  Remember that when you're listening to someone else’s point of view… you might actually find that you’re wrong.

-Guys:  If you think she looks spectacular in that dress, grow a backbone and say so.

-Girls:  If you do receive a compliment, accept it with grace.  If you get defensive or disagree repeatedly, guys will take it as a sign of immaturity.

-People can easily tell if you're pandering for compliments. 

-Appreciate what and who you have, many are not as lucky as you.

-Your memory is better than you think.

-In the wake of an unwanted event, drastic change usually isn't the best course of action.

-Guys:  Don't be intimidated by a woman that is smarter or more successful than you are… that’s what is called “a catch”.

-Girls: Even if you’re just friends, let the guys take care of the check every once in a while, we like playing the gentleman role.

-Guys:  Offer to take care of the check.  If she says no, say it’s no trouble.  If she still wants to split or handle it herself, let her.

-If you joke and say "Is it considered multitasking when you do a line of coke and pee in the cup at the same time?” the drug test administrator will not laugh.

-If someone has reasons for not liking the same music as you, don't dismiss them… they might actually make a good point.

-Romantic movies do not reflect life.  This means:
- -The chubby comic relief will NEVER land the dream girl.
- -Your crush won’t suddenly realize they're in love with you just because you're there all the time.
- -Girls:  Don’t expect an Oscar-worthy speech when you're getting an apology.
- -Guys:  If you screw up big, she’s not going to fully forgive you right away.

-Have a dream to hang onto, when all else goes wrong... it can be the ray of hope you need to push on.

-Many people think they're clever by saying something like, “There’s THREE sides to every story: Person A’s version, Person B’s version, and the truth”.  Often times, Person A or B might actually be honest.

-Trying to impress others is pointless.  The act will eventually wear thin, and the people that haven’t already seen through it will definitely then.  Believe it or not, others will be more impressed if you don’t care about impressing anyone.

-Be as honest as you can.  It’s never a good thing to be branded as a liar, even if you want to seem “edgy”.

-If you drop an empty beer bottle on the ground, don’t stomp on it and yell, “MOZEL TOV!!!”.  Just pick it up.

-Girls:  If a guy asks you an up-front question, give an up-front answer.

-Guys:  If you ask an up-front question, be prepared for an answer you may not like.

-Acting tough and being tough are not the same thing, and 90% of your peers can tell the difference.

-Get in the habit of questioning everything. Once you do, you'd be surprised how many people out there are totally full of shit.

-Just because someone famous said something that sounds insightful, doesn’t mean that it is.

-The ONLY guarantee in life is that it will eventually end.  Everything else is up for grabs, so go for it.
(Though, just because you're able to go for it, doesn't mean you should.)
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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pit Stop on the Road to Nowhere



The truck stop restaurant on Holy Hill Road is an oasis of food and relaxation on the outskirts of southeastern Wisconsin.  From the freeway, all one can see of it is the faint beacon of a Citgo sign, resting atop a pole, forty feet high.

In search of nothing, I take the exit and park my car, too nice to be unnoticed at a place such as this, at the edge of the parking lot.  Following a bathroom session that has been long overdue, I sit down at the otherwise barren counter and wait for service.

The waitress, who seems to be a mere twenty-two but I can see has already lost the happiness of a young life brimming with possibilities, walks up to me, silverware in hand.

"Just coffee, please." My words stop her in her tracks.  Without any words of her own, she turns around and makes for the line of coffee pots.  Returning to my little coffee-lacking section of the world, she gingerly sets the mug in front of me, and fills it to the top.  Somehow, I detect technique in her service; she has already done this too many times.

"Would you like some water?"  Her voice is meek and barely audible, making me wonder why this young girl has such an apparent lack of vitality in every way I have so-far witnessed.  I chalk it up to the simple fact that she’s stuck working at a truck stop diner at 11pm on a Saturday night.  My decline for water releases her from my presence, and she retreats to the few tables across the room, filled with loud and boisterous truckers.  I look at them and sip my extremely bitter coffee.

I count eight of them, spanning three tables... and all of the clich├ęs are present.  There are the old & angry veterans with beards down to their chest... the middle-aged professionals... and the young cats, who are no doubt rookies on some of their first runs.  The younger guys are my age, and like me, are silent. 

 While I am silent with observation, they keep quiet because the older veterans are busy blanching out old war stories.  Every single time the veterans laugh loudly, the newbies chuckle. Even from the other side of the diner, it's painfully obvious those newbies are laughing out of some kind of respect or admiration.  If they weren't there, I would bet my toes that no one else would be laughing at their quips and jokes.  These men would be out of their element in any other venue, but since they're in the presence of people willing to listen, they fake charisma and hope nobody is willing to give them a reality check.  No one does.  They continue to ramble on about pulling 400 mile trips without wearing pants and looking down the shirts of well-proportioned women in convertibles.

Their loud, one-way conversation is making it difficult to decipher the roadhouse-type country music that’s quietly playing on the radio in the kitchen.  Realizing that even if I could hear it clearly, I would never be able to identify any aspect of the song… I stop trying.

An old couple sits down a few chairs away to my right.  When they get settled, senility is released into the air, riding on the shoulders of their conversation.  The husband gripes to his wife, who is staring at me, about his son not caring about his attempt to document a family tree.  Not getting any response from her does not slow down his dramatic yet strange sentences, he carries on as if she were a part of the dialog.  I turn my head toward the wife, whom is still staring at me.  To try and end the unpleasant moment I have been forced to be a part of, I make eye contact with her.  My smile and nod do nothing to break her vacant, unsettling stare.  An irrational fear begins to brew within my mind, I can vividly picture her attacking me without warning or provocation.

A faint whisper of shit drifts past my nostrils.  “Senile Old People with a Side of Full-Diaper” seems to be the house special tonight.  I however, am content with the industrial-grade coffee I've been forcing down my throat, so I take the last gulp of my third refill and set the empty mug down in front of me.  My want to occupy this place has come and gone.

Standing up, I pull a five dollar bill out of my wallet, slip it under the mug, and walk out the door.  The silver hue of my car in the distance provides familiarity, and I feel at peace.
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